The story begins with the Liverpool coach on the 6th September 1823. Sadly it overturned and badly injured a little boy. His right leg was amputated at the knee. The child died on the 1st November and was buried in the graveyard of St Cuthbert’s Church.
The body-snatchers Burke and Hare were up to no good in Edinburgh this time exhuming bodies and selling them to the medical world for dissection. Accounts of graves being robbed of their occupants featured in all the newspapers. There was concern that a grave had been tampered with in Stanwix. Before long suspicion focused on ‘two strangers’ who’d hired a room in Long Island. The trail led to the offices of the Edinburgh Carriers where a stoutly corded box to be delivered to Lieutenant Todd in Edinburgh had already been dispatched. Suspicion excited, the box was stopped and opened at Hawick. Inside were the bodies of three children. Another, rather heavier box, had already been refused transportation.
Meanwhile on the 8th of December, another interment was about to occur in St Cuthbert’s. The mourners may have been rather alarmed at what was discovered. The body of a Botchergate Blacksmith wash discovered with cord tied around its feet. He was carefully reburied and a search of the graveyard made. The little boy, killed in the coach accident, was missing as was the body of a cotton spinner.
A twenty guinea reward was offered for the capture of the resurrection men but they disappeared as swiftly as they had arrived. By 1828 body-snatching had reached such a pitch that the Government of the day needed to legalize dissection.
St Cuthbert’s Church in Carlisle has had a chequered history. These days its easy to miss tucked away as it is down a side lane between the House of Fraser and the Crown and Mitre. St Cuthbert preached in Carlisle but it didn’t stop the Vikings destroying the church that stood on the spot. It was William Rufus who ordered that the church should be rebuilt and it escaped the worst of the great fire of 1292 as well as the attentions of assorted besieging Scots. In 1644 when the Parliamentarians closed the cathedral and the parish church of St Mary’s which lays inside the cathedral the mayor made St Cuthbert’s the city’s Civic Church. It remains so to this day.
However, in 1777 it was decided that the church should be rebuilt, though the opening of the new church was delayed by a particularly bad storm in 1778 it took only two years to raise the money for the building and fitting out of the new church. Nothing remains of the medieval church apart from some fragments of glass.
The churchyard is an oasis of green in a city environment. Headstones have been placed against the churchyard walls so there is no indication of the spot where executed felons and Jacobites were laid to rest. There’s a further link to Carlisle’s troubled past as the last town besieged in England inside the church in the form of the royal coat of arms which were placed there in the aftermath of 1745 to remind the citizens of Carlisle where their loyalty lay.
Back outside, the graveyard is the final resting place for members of the Royalist garrison who died during the siege of 1644. The guide-book also makes reference to a highwayman and if that weren’t lively enough in December 1823 the body snatchers came calling in Carlisle. Graves were tampered with, two bodies went missing and one was discovered parcelled up ready for transportation.
Who would have thought there was so much history lurking in such a peaceful spot?